Tigers of India-Witnessing History

Filed in Places Of Interest, Wildlife, Workshops on May.23, 2012

The days just flew passed during our time in Ranthambhore, India.  We settled into our routine with twice daily safaris surrounded by nature, culture and the colours of this amazing country. By now all my clients had seen and captured some amazing images of Bengal Tigers which I was over the moon with.  As the host of this trip I organise and run myself with great help from my friends in India. Everyone’s wish was to see these animals at the same time and maybe capture them on camera and that’s exactly what they all did.

There are seven ‘old’ gates within the national park and twice a day we’d pass through the main gate, which is the way to one of the 5 zones that you are allocated before each trip.  Each zone is around 25 km plus in size, where your jeep has to stay on a small path which takes you around the chosen zone.  There is a very strict code of conduct on board eg. no shouting/loud noise and you cannot get out of the jeep, it’s all controlled really well with the Tigers welfare being paramount.

It was great to see some of the guards which I had made friends with during my many trips to this place over the last several years. They do an amazing job with limited resources keeping just over 30 Tigers safe from the ever presence of poaching. They showed me around and were very kind and helpful to my group by letting us pass through the main gate and onto our zone for that day with minimal fuss.  The photo below shows the ‘chef’ as he’s known, he’s worked for 38 years in Ranthambhore and knows every inch of the place, his wisdom and experience you just couldn’t learn overnight.

I took some presents this year for them, images of Tigers for their homes. I always get out of the jeep at checkpoints to shake their hands and introduce my clients to the guards. A warm embrace and smiles all round.  They all deserve respect for the job they are doing and I try to show that to them in my way, as respect is earned not given my late mum always taught me.

I only wished the many politicians and people involved with Tiger conservation around the world could see the frontline in the battle against poachers and give them more equipment and resources, because on the ground we are asking these fellows to risk their lives against a well organized band of poachers. Once these Tigers have gone the whole area falls and the Tiger will not return, very sad but money has to be channeled into helping the guards around India in keeping the Tigers alive. I was shocked and saddened by how these guys stop poachers with their limited resources.

As on so many other safaris the lady of the lake-T17 was hunting and patroling mainly in the morning.  Both jeeps had some wonderful moments photographing this lovely Tigress. Its real heart in the mouth stuff though as they seem to except the small jeeps we are in but I truly don’t think they know there’s an easy meal for them inside. This is always going through your mind as you take photographs as they pass by your jeep.  Nothing can ever prepare you for this, you have to witness this for it to truly make sense. I hope these images convey those special and priceless moments I took with these amazing and extremely rare Tigers, showing just how beautiful they are.

Salim my guide headed off on one such encounter and we parked up alone some distance in front of this patrolling Tigress. We could hear the distant calls of Peacocks sounding the alarm, letting the whole area know a Tiger was around, we just waited and waited until she came over the hill, paused and walked down and pass our jeep. I chose to shoot with my fisheye lens trying to convey the habitat which I love to show in my work and give the subject a sense of scale among her kingdom.

This image below captured her as she walked past our jeep and then vanished into the cover of the jungle, this was close, an experience I can see so clear in my head as I type now, but truly magical.

During one safari my clients and I witnessed a part of history, for a few minutes but what seemed like hours we were priviliged to witness something that’s been rarely spoken about in the past and even rarer to see.  A male Tiger rearing his young, totally unheard of in the tiger world. Only the female tigers were known to raise the cubs, but the male Tiger known as T25 has shown that the males also do it.  Wildlife experts say cubs are usually raised by their mothers and male tigers often kill cubs they come across. Officials believe there is no recorded evidence of males behaving like this.

It is common for male tigers to never even set eyes upon the cubs they father, especially when the mother is not present and many male tigers will simply see cubs as food. Their mum died on 9 February 2011 and ever since T25 has reared them and looked after them which is just an amazing story in its self but to see them on this day was magical, truly magical.

We had been in place for over an hour, waiting at a small natural drinking hole that had been refilled with the overnight storm we’d had. Then without warning we saw T25 coming from the shadows of the jungle, walking with great strength and power. The males are completely different to the females. They are shyer and very aggressive in their nature. Their physical size is alot bigger, with a rounder head and massive frame. You know when looking your witnessing a top predator with great power and presence.

We had gone through apertures, shutter speed, iso and making the adjustments to our cameras with the fading light, making sure should anything happen that we were ready. T26 a male Tiger walked down first, slowly but full of life, he sat down close to the water and began drinking fully aware we were there and he gave us a look to let us know that. An air of total confidence and control with no fear of nothing, thats when you know your king of the jungle.  We watched him quietly.

We heard a few small calls as he looked around at the different noises he’d heard as he was drinking. Then from nowhere one of his cubs appeared from the forest. She stood there few a few seconds looking for reassurance it was ok to join her dad before heading down to the water to drink.

She settled alongside her father as they both drank aware of the shutter noise from our cameras. It was a moment I’ll never forget, but at the time you’re just concentrating so much on capturing the moment it really doesn’t sink in until after.  He was always on guard, so to speak, and you sensed his protection of her by just seeing them together so close. The other cub never showed but both are doing very well I am told.

They drank for a few minutes before T25, the male got up and headed back into the dense jungle with his cub following.

He led the way as he’d done when first visiting the watering hole, his cub waiting behind until he went first. I managed to capture him here just looking back and giving a slight call to his cub. She then came from behind a tree and followed her father into the jungle. It was very touching to see this bond between them both played out before us, thousands of miles from home as we witnessed history in Ranthambhore one of if not the best place in India to see Bengal Tigers in the wild.

The whole week was brilliant and each evening my clients had their own best images from that day to talk through.  Each year the trip seems to get better and you really have to see one of these amazing animals in the flesh to truly appreciate their beauty. With so much wildlife in Ranthambhore the photographic opportunities are everywhere. A paradise in more ways than one for a wildlife photographer.

There’s something very human like when we look into the eyes of primates. Something that touches deep inside our soles where we see so much of our own human mannerisms. I did a close up of this young black faced langur monkey sitting close to his mum. I slowly walked forward as not to disturb the young one or the mum and this was the result making best use of the side lighting to bring out detail, shape and texture to the image, another wonderful and touching moment from Ranthambhore, India.

The week there passed far to quick and before we knew it the time had come to leave Ranthambhore and head off home. I wished I could have stayed as I really love this place and its Tigers.  It has a magical feel to it, an old fort taken over by nature. We headed for the airport the same way we came, packed lunches in hand as we started the journey home.

A big thank you to my clients for your company and another big thank you to Rag and Salim for your help and expert tracking and guidance with the Tigers. Many thanks to the staff at the Ranthambhore Bagh where we stay, great food, warm welcome and a great base for this trip.

I will be releasing a few more limited edition prints very soon to go along with the 3 others I currently have, where 50% of the profits go to a charity I work with to help rise money for Tigers around the world; 21 Century Tiger. Where they spend 100% of your money in helping Tigers around the world, these animals are in real danger of extinction and need as much help as possible so that future children get the chance to see this amazing animal in the wild.

Next years dates and information is up on on my website here, so if you wish to see these amazing images and capture some beautiful images working alongside myself and two of the best guides in India then contact me for more information.

I’ll be giving my top tips on fieldcraft in July’s issue of Practical Photography, which is out the second week of June. Fieldcraft when working with wild animals with their natural fear of man, away from per-planned perches, baited set ups and captive animals is the most important tool in any wildlife photographers toolbox.

Capturing real images as seen on the ground and not changed by the hand of man is what wildlife photography means to me as a professional, its the way I work when among nature.  I go through what works on the ground and how you can almost think like wildlife and become part of the landscape. All built on respect for your subject and wildlife around you, this is the foundation to my work today so I hope you enjoy the article.

And just before I go there are still a few places left on my Summer Tide workshop in Norfolk in conjunction with Calumet Photographic, for more information and bookings please click on this link. or click on their seminars page for Manchester and Drummond street branches with more workshops and talks planned very soon. For an idea of what you may see on this day then click on a previous interview I did here with Practical Photography covering my passion for this amazing event.

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